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CASSANDRA WILSON:
CONJURE
WOMAN
 

     She’s a melanin ice woman melting in musical heat; she’s muted Miles microphning under a magenta light; she’s Lady Lester levitating under a full moon; she’s Black frost burning on a slow cool breeze; she’s sister-sicle singing songs of spirit with lyrics of life.

     On Friday, October 27, at Brooklyn Heights’ Church of St. Ann’s and the Holy Trinity, the “Face the Music” program of “Arts at St. Ann’s” officially opened their season series with the sultry stylings of jazz singer Cassandra Wilson.  Incorporating innumerable influences from Hatshepsut to Miles Davis, she is a folk singer with a blues ear, a blues singer with a jazz ear, and a jazz singer with antennae.  Her sound is circular, an acoustic corridor of continuous curves.  There are no edges, just endless expression; there are no angles, just artistic approaches.

     Wilson, who commenced composing at the tender age of 12, presented a program featuring four of her original works: “Red Bone,” “Find Him,” “Memphis,” and “Warm Death.”  She opened, however, with the spellbinding “Strange Fruit” and later included the song “I’m so Lonesome I Could Cry.”  The spell that was cast with the Billie Holiday classic “Strange Fruit” was never removed.

     Under the music directorship of bassist Lonnie Plaxico, the six-member band consisted of what was tantamount to a double trio: on the one hand, there was the conventional acoustic piano, bass, and drums; on the other, electric piano, violin and congas.  At times, Wilson herself augmented the accompaniment with guitar.  Wilson moved the material from the melodious to the mellifluous, from the opulent to the intimate.  Even the blues became an excursion into the ethereal while remaining candid to its character.

     At the close of the concert, the capacity crowd in the spacious church exploded into extended applause which slowly escalated into a cadence-clapping call for an encore.  Eventually, one half of the band methodically returned: first, the acoustic pianist, then the bassist and drummer.  Magically, the crowd collectively metamorphosized into a massive ear sculpture of still life.  Finally, Wilson returned and commenced singing the standard “Autumn in New York.”  This was Wilson in the ballad tradition of trio-backed singers, venting voices without nets.

     Wilson’s voice emerged from the dimly lit stage and expanded into a nocturnal presence presiding over the dark.  She sang of autumn, and the temperature dropped in synchronization with the silent syncopation of lyrical leaves descending in a distant park.

     From the poplar trees of a pernicious South to the torch song trees of Tin Pan Alley, Wilson wove her way through time, space, theme, and experience while weaving a spell that continues beyond the concert and into the consciousness.

Author: GEORGE EDWARD TAIT

Publication Name: NEW YORK AMSTERDAM NEWS

Publication Date: 12-09-95

 

 
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